[OPE-L:7166] Re: Marx on solving human problems

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Tue May 14 2002 - 17:51:14 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jurriaan Bendien" <j.bendien@wolmail.nl>
To: <gerald_a_levy@msn.com>
Sent: Tuesday, May 14, 2002 5:26 PM
Subject: Marx on solving human problems


 Thanks for your comment. To repeat, Marx says only that our species only
 sets itself problems which it CAN (is able to) solve, not necessarily that
 it WILL solve them. The solutions to most of the problems you mention
 already exist, but whether they are implemented is another matter, this as
 I said requires choices, decisions, will and so on. Thus, the damage of the
 ozone layer has in its wake the growing knowledge of the importance of
protecting it, and so on. The explosion of nuclear bombs has in its wake
 the knowledge of what they could do to the basis of human life, and so on.

 I consider Marx's concept that possible solutions are already present in
 material reality before they are even grasped correctly in human
 consciousness a key tenet of Marx's materialist and dialectical conception
 of history. It has nothing to do with Victorian teleology or bourgeois
 technological optimism, it is an empirically testable, scientific claim (if
 only testable in retrospect - "Minerva's owl flies at dusk", as Hegel
 said). That is what I would defend against the irrationalism and cultural
 pessimism of some Greens and doomsayers.

 I do not however claim that humankind will necessarily solve all the
 problems it has created, but then nor does Marx. Nor do I deny that
 individuals can create many more problems than they can solve themselves.
 That is obviously possible.

 Marx writes elsewhere (paraphrasing from memory, I think the Grundrisse),
 "there comes a time in the development of the productive forces when they
 cause only harm, turning from productive forces into forces of
 destruction". It is possible with current weapons technology to wipe out
 the material basis for socialism and indeed of human life itself. Agreed.
 In that case, the contradictions of capitalism would be resolved
 negatively, i.e. the "mutual ruin of the contending classes" would occur,
 to use Marx's own formula.

 But the only way in which Marx is "optimistic" is in implying that it is
 POSSIBLE to solve the problems humanity has created for itself, and has
 become aware of (be it with a certain time-lag). It is possible, because if
 we look more closely into it, we find that where humanity is capable of
 framing the problem, possible solutions are already to hand. So in effect
 the existence of possible solutions is presupposed by our ability to
 "think" the problem. Whether those solutions are taken up is another
 matter, it depends among other things on the correct framing of the
 problem, and as I said, on decisions, choices, will etc. There are plenty
 of examples of e.g. inventions which were only put to best use, centuries
 after they were thought of. In this sense, history is a virtually
 inexhaustible store of solutions.

 I agree, we cannot know fully the inexhaustible complexity of the natural
 world, but all Marx is committed to saying is that we can find solutions to
 OUR problems, the problems we have posed or created, within that natural

 It is, of course, always possible that e.g. a very large blunt object could
 hit the planet in the future, so large and so fast that we could not e.g.
 fire a missile at it to explode it, destroying life on the planet. But that
 would really not be a "problem that humanity had set itself".

 The way many Greens like to portray humanity however is like a kid playing
 with matches. In other words, human beings blindly blunder around in the
 biosphere, destroying many delicate natural balances without realising what
 they are doing, the fact that they are destroying the basis of life. They
 are playing with forces much bigger than themselves, which go out of
 control and lead to destruction. This trend of thought forms the basis of
 cultural pessimism and a negative view of human nature: humanity will not
 be able to solve the problems it has set itself, because it is to stupid,
 too ignorant, too selfish, too narrowminded, too greedy, too shortsighted
 and so on. It is incapable of collectively taking appropriate action before
 it is too late. All we can do is huddle together a bit in communes and so

 Well, I could make a few simple observations about this cultural pessimism:
(1) The very fact that there is today e.g. a high level of concern about
 the environment is precisely proof of the fact that human beings ARE
becoming aware of these problems, and are looking for solutions.
(2) If you deny even the possibility that humanity can solve the problems
 it sets for itself, because e.g. it supposedly has set in motion an
 uncontrollable chain of events leading to destruction, you are not
 well-placed to FIND solutions using good scientific practice or engage in
 political action to implement them.
(3) The very fact that we are able to recognise the "bad side" of human
 beings implies precisely the existence of the "good side" of human beings.
(4) Cultural pessimism disregards the incredible things that human beings
 are capable of, and by postulating that we are victims of forces beyond our
 control, prevents us from doing the things that would help us gain control.
 In reality we do not even know yet fully what humanity is capable of in a
 positive sense, why restrict the possibilities in advance ?

 But what good does it do somebody to pander to cultural pessimism anyway ?
 It is not constructive, it doesn't help you to enjoy life, it doesn't help
 you to fight for a better world and it doesn't help you to alert you to the
solutions which do exist.

 Incidentally, have you noticed how American people reacted to the anthrax
 scare ? Do you really think that they would tolerate the large-scale use of
 biological weapons ?



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